Changes in Soil Organic Carbon Fractions in Response to Cover Crops in an Orange Orchard


Rev. Bras. Ciênc. Solo




ABSTRACT The cultivation of cover crops intercropped with fruit trees is an alternative to maintain mulch cover between plant rows and increase soil organic carbon (C) stocks. The objective of this study was to evaluate changes in soil total organic C content and labile organic matter fractions in response to cover crop cultivation in an orange orchard. The experiment was performed in the state of Bahia, in a citrus orchard with cultivar ‘Pera’ orange (Citrus sinensis) at a spacing of 6 × 4 m. A randomized complete block design with three replications was used. The following species were used as cover crops: Brachiaria (Brachiaria decumbes) – BRAQ, pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) – MIL, jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis) – JB, blend (50 % each) of jack bean + millet (JB/MIL), and spontaneous vegetation (SPV). The cover crops were broadcast-seeded between the rows of orange trees and mechanically mowed after flowering. Soil sampling at depths of 0.00-0.10, 0.10-0.20, and 0.20-0.40 m was performed in small soil trenches. The total soil organic C (SOC) content, light fraction (LF), and the particulate organic C (POC), and oxidizable organic C fractions were estimated. Total soil organic C content was not significantly changed by the cover crops, indicating low sensitivity in reacting to recent changes in soil organic matter due to management practices. Grasses enabled a greater accumulation of SOC stocks in 0.00-0.40 m compared to all other treatments. Jack bean cultivation increased LF and the most labile oxidizable organic C fraction (F1) in the soil surface and the deepest layer tested. Cover crop cultivation increased labile C in the 0.00-0.10 m layer, which can enhance soil microbial activity and nutrient absorption by the citrus trees. The fractions LF and F1 may be suitable indicators for monitoring changes in soil organic matter content due to changes in soil management practices.

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